But the Huskies couldn't make that happen, and Louisville lost a three-way tiebreaker to West Virginia, a team it beat in Morgantown in early November. As a consolation prize, Louisville earned a trip to the Belk Bowl in Charlotte for a matchup with the ACC's North Carolina State.
The Cardinals were 2-4 after six games, but they came on strong in the second half of the season to finish 7-5. Similarly, the Wolfpack began 2-3, with both wins coming against lower-division teams, but finished with five victories in its last seven games.
Like Louisville, North Carolina State has a former top recruit in his first year as the starting quarterback. Strong's club starts true freshman Teddy Bridgewater, while the Wolfpack has redshirt junior Mike Glennon. Bridgewater's supporting class is probably better at the skill positions, though N.C. State's James Washington and Tony Creecy are a solid running back tandem and the speedy receiver T.J. Graham is a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball.
In the latter half of the season, N.C. State has struggled when its offense has had a hard time putting up points. It lost 34-0 to Florida State, scored just 10 points against a woeful Boston College side, and just 13 in a victory against North Carolina. On the other hand, the Wolfpack comes into the game fresh off a 37-13 victory over Clemson and a 56-41 comeback over Maryland, so that side of the ball is feeling pretty confident.
Bridgewater will have to watch out for N.C. State cornerback David Amerson, who leads the country in interceptions. Defensively, the Wolfpack are about average against both the run and the pass, so there's not one approach that is sure to work.
For Strong, this is a great way to build confidence for next year. As one of the least experienced teams in the country, with freshmen and sophomores nearly everywhere on the depth chart, Louisville hopes that the Belk Bowl in 2011 leads to bigger games down the road.
-- DL Greg Scruggs has been bothered by turf toe, and he missed the regular-season finale against South Florida. The extra time off for the bowl game should allow him to be ready to play in the postseason. -- DT Randy Salmon missed the South Florida game to end the regular season because of illness, but he hopes to be back for the bowl game.
BOWL HISTORY: The Cardinals have been to 15 bowl games, and they are 7-7-1. Up until last season, Louisville hadn't gone anywhere since 2006, but the Cardinals knocked off Southern Miss 31-28 in last year's Beef O'Brady's Bowl.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This team has done a great job all year of just handling adversity. I said at the beginning that it was going to be a roller coaster ride. Some days we were going to be up, and some days we were going to be down. If you just look at this season, you go from 2-4 and then you watch a team go and win five out of six games. It speaks volumes of the leadership, and it just speaks volumes of how these players developed and how they came along. Each week, they just got better and better and better." -- Louisville coach Charlie Strong.